We conducted an interview with one of our consultants to discover what a healthy friendship looks like in the Philippines. First, we looked at the broader picture of social structure in the Philippines. Power in the Philippines is centralized in the hands of the wealthy and the well-known. The powerful are known by the way they dress, the way they carry themselves, and the way they can easily converse on a wide range of topics. Power can be inherited; often, political leaders are elected because of family connections, even though they may not be qualified for the position. Sometimes, this practice even carries over into the church; community leaders or wealthy individuals may be treated with special honor by the church members. On the other end of the scale, some Filipinos feel that their fate is predetermined. Because they are poor and uneducated, they just accept whatever those above them say. They fill the role of helper, not able to determine their own destiny. It is possible, though, for someone to change in status. Sometimes, the powerful can lose their position because of corruption and “new money” can gain power through hard work and discipline. There is a value on equality in the Philippines, but those of higher status are often given a special place at gatherings, special meriendas (snacks) and special attention; while those of lower status may be ignored.
We as missionaries are free to associate with anyone of any status. While some might have varying opinions on this, generally speaking, we may even develop fairly close relationships with students or with colleagues of the opposite sex. Our status within the church is on par with the general officers of the church. Because of this, church members feel honored to have us visit their churches. Those who have observed us admire that we are “down to earth”—willing to eat what they eat, ride with them, attend events that are important to them, etc. So, we have an above average status in the church (and possibly in society at large), but people respect our willingness to set status aside and live alongside them.
We, to some degree, have been adopted by the Agapito family. They consider us their children and welcome us to any family event. Even their neighbors consider us to be a part of that family. There are no mandatory social obligations attached to that family membership, though.
Admirable qualities in a person in the Philippines are willingness to associate with anyone regardless of their status, willingness to help, and selflessness. In fact, a good person will not say “no” when they have it in their power to help someone. Friends are always available to help each other. When one prepares a viand, she shares it with her friend. They spend an above average amount of time together, playing games with each other and talking. One keeps in close contacts with his closest friends.
Very close friends will embrace as a part of their greeting, and beso-beso is a common greeting between female friends. Even strangers address older people as manong/manang (brother/sister) or tatang/nanang (father/mother). Within the church, we might address an older person as uncle or aunt. When in doubt about age relationship, it is kinder to refer to the person with the younger term of address; i.e. tita (aunt) is safer than lola (grandmother). Friends feel comfortable “dropping in” on friends without any advance warning. They may text ahead—not to ask permission, but merely to inform that they are on their way. When a friend visits, one should stop her activity and give full attention to her guest. If it is time for merienda, she should invite her friend to join her in eating. Friends can feel safe in borrowing anything from each other. If someone has something one needs to borrow, the general philosophy is, “She is a channel of that blessing for me.”